In July of this year AmericaSpace posted the following article expressing concerns about the temporary structure that Enterprise was housed in. The author, who was the curator for the Gen. Thomas P. Stafford Air and Space Museum, was accused of bias and the article’s integrity was called into question. AmericaSpace regrets to report that Hurricane Sandy has shown that Mr. Soulliere’s concerns were well-founded. Therefore we are returning his work to our lineup with our sincerest apologies.
The test article for the space shuttle, Enterprise, has a new home that is a far cry from her old home at the Smithsonian’s Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Washington D.C. Enterprise’s new home is, for all intents-and-purposes a balloon. An inflatable structure that while much-lauded by the public relations firm hired to promote the event – leaves much to be desired.
Lightning protection is something that every home has but apparently something that the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum neglected to provide the shuttle that was used to test the orbiter’s flight characteristics with. The initial response to inquiries regarding this situation appeared to have left the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum’s representatives at a loss. Initially the response was that the inflatable structure was covered in a “lightning prohibitive coating” and that the flight deck was grounded. These representatives quickly returned and stated that the flight deck where Enterprise resided was actually not grounded – but the adjacent Intrepid was. They also adjusted their statement about Enterprise’s new inflatable home that it was actually made from a “non-conductive coating.”
When the grounding question was asked – it appeared to have stumped Enterprise’s Curator Jessica Williams who stated that she had “no clue” as to the grounding status of the structure that is used to protect this national treasure. This lack of fore thought was underscored as a storm rolled into the area. Despite the statements declaring the sturdy nature of this structure – it was damaged during this storm, highlighting the concerns raised about the structure. This latest incident underscores a pattern as to how little consideration appears to have been paid to Enterprise and its new home.
On the day that Enterprise arrived in NYC its wing was dragged along a wooden rail that caused a portion of the wingtip to be damaged (this damage has since been professionally repaired). As if to add insult-to injury-according to a report in the New York Times (among other media outlets) stated the shuttle is near to a strip club. Unlike the new homes that have been selected for her sisters Atlantis (the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex) Discovery (currently at home in Enterprise’s old roost at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center) and Endeavour (the California Learning Center in Los Angeles, Calif.) Enterprise was not given the benefit of having a solid structure in place before she was relocated.
Although the inflatable structure is supposed to be temporary, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space didn’t know when they will have the funds needed to build the permanent structure. It was stated that all total the current pavilion that houses Enterprise cost $3.5 million. For comparison, the facility that the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is currently building for Atlantis cost $100 million.
Click here to read the Huffigton Post’s article about the damage inflicted on Enterprise.
Click here to read concerns raised by aerospace reporter at Examiner.com.
Click here to read an editorial on Enterprise’s plight at the Houston Chronicle.
About the author: Jeffrey J. Soulliere has directly acquired, researched and curated more than 800 NASA space flight artifacts for public museum display in the last 15 years.